On 13 June, over a hundred upper-caste people attacked a colony of the Dalit community in Pokhari village of Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur district. The incumbent chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht, commonly referred to as Yogi Adityanath, won five consecutive Lok Sabha elections from the Gorakhpur constituency and the district is considered his home turf. All the aggressors hailed from the Thakur caste, the same as Adityanath. Atul Kumar, a 24-year-old resident of the colony, told me that the attack was triggered by the presence of a few Dalits in a puja for the Hindu goddess Kali, held in the village on the previous day. Several Dalits suffered serious injuries in the attack, and a first information report was registered in the case on the same night. The FIR lists at least 29 accused, who have been identified by name. However, over two months later, not a single person has been arrested. When I spoke to the investigating officer, Nitish Kumar, on 22 July, he refused to answer any questions, and asked me to come to Gorakhpur if I wanted to talk about the case.
While there is no consolidated official data on incidents of caste atrocities during the lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, reports from several states suggest that there has been a sharp uptick in violence against Dalits in this period. Uttar Pradesh, with its history of violent caste-based fault lines, has witnessed a spike in attacks on Dalit communities across the state. I recorded at least four attacks in four districts over the past two months—in each of the cases, the perpetrators were Thakurs. No arrests have been made in at least two of the cases. In one case, arrests were made only after an NGO gheraoed the concerned police station. In each case, the concerned police officials either refused to talk or said that investigations were ongoing. Ravindra Singh, a former justice of the Allahabad High Court, told me that “the thinking of the present government and people in its top positions is anti-Dalit. Officers of the same thinking have been made superintendents of police, district magistrates and station house officers. They feel that injustice against Dalits is nothing special.”
Atul told me that three people from his locality had watched the puja—Rajinikanth, Chhotu and his father, Murari. “Murari stayed for some time and then he left. Soon after, the Thakurs started using profanities against Chhotu and Rajinikanth, abusing their mothers and sisters. Then they started beating them up. Both of them somehow saved themselves and ran away.” Atul said that the next day, around 8 am, a few of the Thakurs of the village caught another young Dalit man named Shailesh, who was on his way to the market, and beat him severely.
“When Shailesh came home after being beaten, then the elderly Thakurs came home and apologised, and the two sides reached a compromise and all the people present there went back to their houses,” Atul told me. “But around 10 am, about a hundred Thakurs attacked the village and beat up whoever they got their hands on.” He added, “My sister-in-law, Manisha Devi, was injured as was Chandrakala, Ankita, Rajinikanth, Ramkirat, and many others in the village suffered serious injuries.” Atul said that Chandrakala was admitted to the Gorakhpur Medical Hospital for two days. All of them shared their medical reports to show me the extent of their injuries. Atul, too, suffered a broken finger during the attack.
According to Atul, the Thakurs who attacked the village used casteist profanities. “They were saying, ‘Abe chamar teri itni himmat tu hamare samne awaaz uthaega’”—You chamar, how dare you raise your voice against us. Chamar is a caste among Dalits, who historically worked in the tanning industry, and is often employed as a casteist slur by upper castes.